Dustings Of Woofle #16

Next week is Fall Break here at the Jerx. No new posts. Regular posting resumes on the 21st.

Also, on the 21st (or at some point before then) supporters should expect the Fall edition of the X-Comm Newsletter to show up in their email boxes. I’m not exactly sure when it will be sent out, but definitely by that Monday. Just sit and wait for it to arrive, Great-Pumpkin-style.

(“Great-Pumpkin-style” is also my preferred sexual position.)


Is there any magic company more pathetic than Conjuring Arts? Always hopping on the newest trends to turn a quick buck. If some 14-year-old drops a nickel, you can be sure Conjuring Arts will be chasing after it.

It’s almost sad. “What are kids talking about these days? …. Duhhh…. well… yeah… that’s what our next magic product was totally going to be about anyway!” Suuuurrrreeee.

How sad was that instagram post of Bill Kalush doing the Floss Dance to Despacito? Despacito? More like just plain desperate.

Whenever I get an email from them I think, “Gee, let’s see what book they just rushed to press in order to capitalize on whatever flavor-of-the-month trend is happening at the moment”

Did you all get that email about their latest money-grab?

“Hey all! It’s ya boy, Billy K. here to spill the tea about our new release. I know y’all be thirsty AF for the next book that’s going to blow up your Insta and your TikToks with them likes. Well it’s finally arrived! Yasssss, queen! You know you want it, and now it’s here: Volker Huber’s Bibliography of German Language Literature on Magic Arts Published Prior to 1945.


Here’s something for you to play around with while this site is on Fall Break. It comes from reader, Kyle Everitt. It’s not the type of thing you would associate with this site, but it’s still something I find pretty interesting.

This routine is a liar/truth-teller type of routine. The spectator thinks of one of four objects. You ask them some questions and they either lie or tell the truth. In the end, you know which object they were thinking of. That sounds fairly standard, I know, but it differs from the routines of this nature that I’m familiar with, because the spectator can lie or tell the truth at whim. They don’t have to be consistent throughout all of the questions. Yet you can still tell them the object they’re thinking of and the questions they lied about.

I’m posting this here not because I think you’re likely to go out and perform it tomorrow, but because it’s a fascinating thing to try and wrap your head around. And maybe some of you will have some thoughts on ways to push the idea even further. I won’t, myself, because I really don’t even know how it works. But if you’re not dumb like I am, then you may have some further insight.

To play around with this without another person, grab a deck of cards (to act as a randomizer) and print out the pdf below. Shuffle the deck. Use the suit of the first card you turn over to select one of the objects for the “spectator” to think of. Then use red/black to decide whether the person lied or told the truth to each question.

Some quick thoughts of my own. (These won’t make a ton of sense until you familiarize yourself with the document.)

1. Kyle has chosen the four objects so the spectator can just think of them (they don’t need to actually have the objects, or for you to have them look at a specific picture or something like that). I think that’s an admirable goal, but I also think it may—at times—make the questioning a little less intuitively easy to answer. For example, if they think of the “antique chair” then they should answer “yes” when you ask, “Is it made of wood.” But what if the antique chair they think of is not made of wood? I would probably describe it as a “small, wooden chair from a child’s desk at an old schoolhouse,” or something, so they know the chair they’re meant to think of is wooden and liftable.

If this was something I’d do regularly, it would be with a photograph of four people, or four Guess Who cards, so the questions could be very straightforward. “Do they wear glasses?” Etc. This is similar to the first version Kyle sent me a couple months ago.

2. I would also inform the person that every question relates to multiple objects, so even if you knew they were lying or telling the truth for a specific question, it still wouldn’t tell you exactly what object they’re thinking of. This might not be obvious to them.

3. In the attached document he refers to this as an “anagram.” It’s not, but I don’t know what it’s called either. It’s a logic-based liar-truth-teller routine.

Anyway, if you have a mind for this sort of thing, check it out here. You may look at the document and think, “F-this. This looks like homework.” In which case, it’s probably not your scene. But if you like these sorts of concepts, I think you’ll find this really interesting. In actual performance, it’s pretty straightforward, for the spectator. Behind the scenes, there’s a shit-ton going on.

Thanks to Kyle for sending it my way and allowing me to share it with you.


Castration—surgical or chemical—is an expensive proposition. If you’re looking for an alternate way to maintain your young son’s virginity for as long as possible, might I recommend supporting Ellusionist’s newest Kickstarter and supplying him with LED, Light-up “Playing Cards” for Cardistry? Armed with these, you can be certain no one will see him as a potential sexual partner for at least a decade.

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Is this a new low in stupidity? I don’t know. Their Fiddle Stick definitely set the standard in the “dumb garbage” department. But I think this might be worse. Sure, the Fiddle Stick was stupid. But at least it could serve as a complicated dildo with which to fuck yourself on those lonely Friday nights when you were—yet again—not invited to any high school parties. The clickety-clack racket of it sliding in and out of your rectum hopefully drowning out the memory of their mocking laughter when you proudly revealed your Fiddle Stick at the lunch table.

Now, just to be clear, the Fireflies aren’t playing cards. They’re four blocks, each about the size of a quarter of a deck, with which you can perform some cardistry-style maneuvers. Blockistry? I don’t know what you’d call it. But certainly not “cardistry,” because they aren’t playing cards.

As they write in their ad about cardistry:

The barrier to entry is very high. So we developed Fireflies to make it far, far easier.

Fireflies open the door to an easier & visually stunning branch of Cardistry, electric artistry. An obsession requiring you to control only 4 illuminated packets. 

With a deck of playing cards, you've got 52 individual cards to worry about. 

Fireflies reduce your learning curve by allowing you to focus on only 4 blocks at a time. 

There seems to be some confusion here. The only thing that makes cardistry interesting is the fact that it’s difficult—that you’re artfully manipulating 52 separate objects that could fall apart at your fingertips at any moment. Consolidating the cards down to four blocks is moronic.

Yes, similar blocks have been used in the past… for practice. That’s where they belong. There’s nothing cool about carrying around specially made blocks with LED lights on them. It’s like buying spinner rims for training wheels.

I guess my main question is, why stop at four? Why not just whittle it down to one block that you toss in the air. “Wheeee! Wheee! I’m a Cardist!”


See you in ten days. Enjoy Autumn before it’s gone.

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Magic with Unusual Objects

It’s almost universally accepted that magic with “everyday objects” is stronger than magic with some strange prop. I would say, in general, I agree with that pretty much 100%.

But there are still a lot of obvious props that allow you to do something very interesting or really visual, and often the trick itself is really easy. So these tricks can be very alluring.

A typical approach when dealing with a trick that uses some unusual object is to try and normalize the object. “It’s not a magic prop… it’s a sleeve to protect expensive baseball cards!” (WOW gimmick.) “It isn’t a magic prop…it’s a little pill box.” (Okito box)

That makes sense, but it seldom works. “A sleeve to protect baseball cards…. that obscures the image on the card? Who wants that?” “A brass pill box with a lid that just rests on top? What purpose would that serve? Surely we have better options than me walking around with a bunch of loose pills and the top and bottom of a pill box floating around in my purse.” Even if they do buy it, then you’re still carrying around rather arbitrary items to do a trick with.

Below are some different approaches to dealing with unusual objects/obvious props. They’re along the same lines as The Engagement Ceremony style of presentation, where we deal with tricks with a lot of process by putting the focus on the process. Here we deal with a weird object by putting more focus on the object itself.

Here are some examples…

Obvious Prop: Tenyo Trick

Standard method: You pull out the trick and perform it. It’s pretty neat. Your spectator thinks, “Oh, that’s pretty neat. I guess there’s a trick you can buy that does that.”

Alternate presentation:

This is an idea that comes from friend-of-the-site, Toby Halbrooks. Toby is a Hollywood hotshot whose lowest Tomatometer score is still certified Fresh. Toby understands the value of a good story. (I’m hoping to get him to produce an erotic thriller I’m working on about a lawyer with three testicles (fingers-crossed).)

He also understands the value of minor adventures and he suggested to me a presentation for a Tenyo trick—inspired by the Yento presentation—that mixed a little story and a little adventure. From his email…

When you're making plans to eat with a friend and the inevitable "where should we go?" questions turns into "I don't care," you can jump into this. Once you've settled on a place, you jump in the car and start heading towards wherever you decided. Shortly into the drive, you get a text: "Package arrived." Let them see this, overtly or accidentally. Ask if they wouldn't mind changing plans... it'll take a little longer but will be worth it.

For me, we'd drive 40 minutes north to the Korean area of town. I imagine there is some version of this in every town. There is an Asian grocery store, mini-mall, and a bunch of great restaurants.

You can either pull the person into the grocery store with you to go receive the package or ask them to wait in the car. You'd have to set up with somebody there to actually give you the package, which shouldn't be too difficult - obviously, it's nothing illegal. For me there is also a little mini-mall with little booths next door to this that sells a wide variety of things. It would not a be a huge stretch that you'd pick something up here.

With plans officially changed, you pick one of the local restaurants, something they haven't tried, which should be nice and novel on its own. Proceed with the story of what this thing is and let the good times roll.

So now the story you tell is that you got the hook-up on some black market magic tricks out of Asia.

Like Yento, I think it’s a good idea if the trick is examinable and you act as if you don’t have anything to do with the way the trick functions. “It looks like a kid’s toy, but that’s actually part of the way they smuggle it out of the country. By making it look so innocent. It’s really premium shit. I have no clue how it works.”

Obvious Prop: Okito Box

Standard method: You pull out the little brass box and do your coin trick. The spectator thinks, “That was pretty cool. I guess there’s something special about that little brass box.” They’re wrong though. The box is examinable and ungimmicked. But because it’s unusual and introduced as part of a trick, it feels more like a “prop” than a normal brass box.

Alternate Presentation:

You’re at the flea market with your wife. At some point you two go your separate ways. When you reunite, she asks you what you bought. You show her a little circular brass box. “I’ve been practicing those coin tricks and I keep misplacing the coins or knocking them off my desk. I thought this would be a good place to keep them together. And it was like 50 cents, so I figured why not. “

“Also I got a hat from Wrestlemania 7.”

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You get home and set the box on your desk where it remains for a while

Six weeks later you say to you wife, “Remember that little box I got at the flea market to hold my coins? It’s the craziest thing… I’ve got to show you….”

Here we’re putting all the focus on the prop, but long before it’s used as part of a trick. So when something strange starts happening with it, it’s not something strange happening with “the brass magic prop box he just brought out,” but with the box you got at the flea market.

This is a very disarming technique. For example, if you wheeled out a production cabinet, and then did a trick with it, people would assume this was some special magic prop.

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Of course they would, because that’s the context in which they were introduced to it. However if you supposedly bought it at a garage sale and just had a lamp resting on it in your living room for a year and then you did a trick with it, people wouldn’t say, “He did a trick with a special magic cabinet.” They’d say, “He did a trick with the end table.”

Obvious Prop: WOW Gimmick

Standard method: You pull your gimmicked plastic sleeve and make the card visually change. The audience thinks, “Holy shit! That’s crazy. Let me see that plastic sleeve. Oh… I can’t? Okay, I see what the deal is. That was cool though.”

Alternate Presentation:

Go to the dollar store or a thrift store and buy a cheap ceramic statuette of some sort. Then mail it to yourself. Or just put it in a mailing box, print out a fake a mailing label, and leave it near your front door.

Go with your spectator to your house and notice the box on your porch. “Sweet. It came.” You pick up the box and bring it inside. Open it up and remove the figurine and shake it to your ear, but you don’t hear much.

Go in the other room and grab a small towel and a hammer. Already in the towel—unbeknownst to the spectator—is an ungimmicked WOW sleeve. You place the figurine in the towel and smash it with a hammer. Then you unfold the towel, pick through the pieces, and find the WOW sleeve (as if it was entombed in the figurine).

“Huh,” you say, looking it over. “It doesn’t look like much. I hope I didn’t get ripped off.”

You tell your friend about this guy you met who’s able to get some contraband magic tricks shipped to you. They put them in the statues so they’re not seized at the ports.

“He’s never ripped me off before. Does this look like anything to you?” You give your friend the sleeve to examine as much as he wants.

You leave the room to make some phone calls and make sure you got what you were supposed to.

You come back, “Okay, I think I figured it out.” You switch the real WOW trick in at some point and take it from there.

You see, if you take out the WOW gimmick and say, “this is a luggage tag” or “this is a protective case for baseball cards,” you are saying something that is both obviously false and totally boring. But if you say, “I’m not quite sure what this thing is. But I know it has to be smuggled into the country, and if you’re caught with it, it’s a 20,000 dollar fine.” That too is probably not true, but at least it’s kind of interesting.

Not only that, but it’s completely congruent for the spectator. They look at the gimmick and think, “Hmmm… that’s probably some weird magic thing.” And your attitude is, “Yes it is. Weirder than you can imagine.”

HOMЯ

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Imagine

You call a good friend and ask her if she’s free to come over later that evening. “There’s something I want to talk about,” you say. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing too serious, but it might take a little while to explain.”

Later that night she stops by.

You have something cued up on your TV to watch. It’s an episode of the Simpsons. “I know this is strange,” you say, “but I think watching it will help explain what I want to say.”

You watch episode 9 from Season 12, entitled HOMЯ.

In the episode, it’s revealed that Homer has had a crayon stuck in his brain since childhood. When the crayon is removed he becomes much more intelligent which strengthens his relationship with Lisa, but his intelligence becomes a detriment to the other relationships in his life. In the end he has the crayon re-inserted into his brain.

At the end of the episode you say to your friend, “We’ve known each other for a long time and you’ve been a great friend. But I think it’s time for me to make some changes. Changes that are probably going to come between us and potentially prevent us from connecting in the way we have in the past.”

She will be confused about what you’re getting at, and what it has to do with this Simpsons episode.

You sigh. “It’s been fun. Honestly. I’ve really appreciated your friendship.”

With that you close your eyes, tilt your head back, reach into one of your nostrils, and with a bit of wincing and cringing, you slowly pull out a crayon and drop it on the couch next to her.

You blink your eyes rapidly a few times.

“Good heavens,” you say.

You seem to notice your friend as if you forgot she was there, you quickly assess her—not pleased with what you see. “Ah, yes. I think it’s best if you go now. I’ll be in touch if I have the need for your fellowship in the future. Good day.”

You guide her toward the door. The implication is, of course, that now that you don’t have a crayon stuck in your brain, you’re not going to want to be spending much time with this person.

Method

This is a bad idea that you shouldn’t do. This discussion is for entertainment purposes only. Go sue someone else.

Okay so it’s just the human blockhead trick but with a crayon instead of a nail.

Now, here’s the thing… I’m not even sure if this can be done. That is, I don’t know if you can do the blockhead trick with something as thick as a crayon. I’ve heard of people doing it with pens/pencils but I don’t know how safe or dangerous that may be. If a crayon is too big, then just use one of those nails they use. The premise will still be understood: You’ve had something in your brain for a long time which has allowed you to be dumb enough to connect with this other person.

The basic idea for this presentation comes from reader, I.M. I was impressed that anyone could come up with any sort of immersive presentation for the human blockhead trick.

That is one of the most “look at me,” magician-centric tricks of all time. I don’t even know if you can call it a trick. it’s a stunt. But I’m not sure if people are supposed to fooled by it in any way. People surely understand the nail isn’t going into anything in your head, right? I mean, if you hammered it into your forehead, that would be one thing, but sticking it up your nose? I’m not 100% sure what the effect is supposed to be (if there is supposed to be one).

In this thread on the Magic Cafe, noted magic genius, Djvirtualreality, says:

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I’m sure that’s true. But what percentage of that “flipping” is due to amazement? Are people ever in awe of this or just grossed out? I honestly don’t know because I don’t do the trick. But I feel like I could get at least 75% of the reaction of the human blockhead by just telling someone to look in my nose and then rooting around in there with my pinky finger.

Regardless, I think I.M., has hit on something here with his presentation. If you want to do the typical geek stunt, then it makes sense to perform it the traditional way (in and out). However, if you want to do something a little more absurdist and potentially intriguing, then I would focus on a presentation where you just put it in, or just pull it out.

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If you want to push the presentation further, when your friend is on her way out, pull out a basket of mixed-up Rubik’s Cubes (that have been set up in one of those arrangements that allows for a quick solve) and just start solving them one by one

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Mailbag #14

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I just read your post about presentation vs. context. I think the central idea you're getting across is one of method vs story. Humans are incredibly effective at storytelling. It's baked into our DNA and a way for us to engage our memory and other senses to get our point/ideas across to our listener. Storytelling is quite literally a survival skill for our species and it's no wonder when used in magic, makes our audience focus and engage. Your example about Ghosts etc. Is a very involved story that an active participant would engage in and remember because it is being told - as a story - something we have evolved to detect as a pattern and automatically engage with. So, I think the moral of this posts story ( :p) is: if you want an audience to remember your performance - tell them a story with a trick embedded within. If you want your audience to forget - present them a trick ;).

Here are some really cool articles that support your hypothesis:

https://www.wired.com/2011/03/why-do-we-tell-stories/
https://www.edutopia.org/article/neuroscience-narrative-and-memory
https://time.com/5043166/storytelling-evolution/

BG

The problem with using "storytelling" with magicians is they say, "Ah, I know. I'll tell a story about a blue-backed card who got jealous and became a red-backed card." Or something like that.

What you want is to create a "story" where the spectator is a "character" taking part in something

“Presentation” is about adding a story to a trick. “Context” is about making the trick a story.


I've watched Brian Connor's Big Brother. I imagine that you know it because he talks about you but it's basically the trick of coding a card to your Google Assistant.

My question was: do you have any justification if anyone tries to make his/her Google Assistant name a card in the same way and getting no results? That is the only weak point I can find. —JP

I don’t own it, so I can’t really comment on if what I’m suggesting would work with the method, but I think the simple answer is that your presentation can't be "this is something that all phones can do.” It has to be your particular phone/google assistant that is compromised/modified in some way.

  • You "hacked" it

  • The government is spying on you specifically and has messed with your phone.

  • You have a beta version of the upcoming operating system that has some strange features.

  • Your phone was struck by lightning and is acting weird.

  • All your electronics are acting up in a "Maximum Overdrive" type of scenario.

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Or something along those lines.


[Re: A recent question on close-up pads.)

Small-size mouse pads are usually big enough to double as closeup pads. I get them for five bucks at the computer store. The non-skid rubber black ones are my favorite. If you’re sitting close enough to your desktop computer you can grab the mouse pad and say, “here this makes it easier” before performing a trick on it. Or at a cafe you can pull one out of your backpack and identify it as a mouse pad.—CW

In the right situation I think that would fly. In some situations, carrying around a mousepad would be as strange (if not stranger) as carrying around a pad to do card tricks on.

My general rule—if I have a trick that is surface dependent—is to move the performance of that trick to an adequate surface, rather than moving a surface to the trick. This makes perfect sense in an amateur situation.

Mattresses, couch cushions, blankets, carpeting, yoga mats, etc. Keep your eye out and you’ll find other “natural” close-up pad surfaces.


Talking about robbers entering the front door/back door/etc using different parts of the deck is a bit clunky. I think it's a bit nicer to say they're robbing a skyscraper and they're robbing different floors. Then you say the police arrived so the robbers all ran up to the roof (riffle deck to indicate this) and they ziplined/helicoptered away. That's how I was shown it as a kid. —KM

Hmmm. I see your point, but I doubt anyone gets too hung-up on that. “Hey! This isn’t very bank-like!” Although your version certainly ups the ante on the action quotient. A skyscraper! Zip-lines! I’m into that. Hell, I’d encourage someone to do a full 109 minute version that completely re-enacts the 2018 film, Skyscraper, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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I myself a working on a version where the deck is an actress in a gang-bang porno and the four Jacks are the men in the film. “One inserted himself in her bottom. One in her vagina. One titty fucked her. And one went in her mouth. Just then, the director said, ‘We only have this Airbnb for two more minutes, let’s finish up!’ And they all… jacked-off…on…her…face.”

[Hold for applause.]

Codified

Here’s a trick I did with a wingman friend of mine when we were out with a couple non-magician friends last week.

If you were to do it the way I did it, it requires you and the person you’re performing with to have a particular learned skill, but there is an easier way to do it as well that I’ll give at the end.

Here’s what it looks like. We were at a Cafe to get lunch and we had brought our laptops along to get some work done afterwards. We’re all freelance/self-employed, so this is a pretty regular occurrence for us. I was there with my “wingman” Jeff and our friends Emily and Charles.

Jeff is not really a magician—he doesn’t read up on magic or follow it online—but he likes learning two-person code tricks. I’ve taught him probably a dozen different systems over the years. And while the majority of them have been forgotten, we have a few different things that we perform regularly enough and are simple enough that we can easily go into them with no preparation.

It’s not hard to find a person like Jeff in your life. Just look for someone who appreciates cleverness and likes a little attention. Your wingmen don’t have to have the same level of investment in magic as you do.

I tell Charles and Emily that I’m working on a new trick with Jeff and we send him to the other side of the Cafe for a minute. I ask Emily to name a one-syllable word. She says, “Lump.” I have a deck of cards with me and ask her to shuffle it.. I take the deck back and one-by-one I take cards from the top of the deck and hold them out towards Emily as if I’m feeling for some kind of vibration. Some of those cards are dealt in a row in front of her face-up, others face-down, and some are discarded altogether.

I beckon Jeff to come back over and he waves his hand over the spread of cards. He looks at Emily and says, ‘You’re thinking of the word ‘Lump.’”

They found this modestly impressive. Obviously I had coded the word in the cards, but how?

I showed them that I’d used Morse code. The red cards were “dots,” the black cards were “dashes” and the face-down cards indicated the end of a letter.

Here is “Lump” coded in that way.

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I reset the deck to its normal condition.

“That’s sort of the ‘training wheels’ version. We’ve been practicing to get a lot faster.” I ask Emily to whisper another word to me.

I take the deck and flip one half face-up and shuffle it into the other half. Not quite as fast as a normal shuffle, but relatively briskly. I bring my face down so I can study the sides of the deck as I shuffle. As you might if you were learning riffle-stacking. I then give it a few overhand shuffle chops, cut it into a few packets and reassemble. I take the deck and hold it at one end and flip the other end like a flip-book for Jeff as he looks into the deck.

This all happens very quickly. Far too quickly for me to have actually stacked the cards. And even if I had, there would be no way for Jeff to actually decipher the pattern in a quick riffle of the end of the packet. Right?

And yet, after a couple moments of thought, he says, “Were you thinking of the word Dance?”

She was.

I’ve already started resetting the deck when they ask to see it again.

Emily gives me another word. I split the deck and shuffle it face-up into face down. Even faster this time. Some overhand shuffling and then I cut a few packets around the table and quickly reassemble the jumbled mess.

I flip the cards towards Jeff. He squints. “I missed it,” he says. “One more time.”

I do it again. He shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m not getting anything.”

I spread the deck on the table. All the cards are facing the same way. “Shoot. The deck broke,” I say.

Method

I particularly like the structure of this trick. Tonally it’s all over the place, but at the same time, each phase naturally follows the one that precedes it.

Phase One: You show them a minor effect and expose it for real.

Phase Two: You then do the same effect but in a much more impossible way.

Phase Three: You supposedly are going to repeat phase two, but it veers off into a magical/absurdist direction.

Depending on your point of view, you could see this as an elaborate way to get into Triumph. Or you could see the Triumph part as an out-of-left-field kicker ending.

To do this as I did it, you and your wingman need to know Morse code. It’s easy. It takes under a half hour to learn. Invite your friend over, get some food, and make it your goal to learn it in an evening. I find having a visual guide helpful in learning it, so you can associate the dots and dashes with the shape of the letter.

What makes Morse Code so useful is that it’s a code that can be “read” through sight, sound, or by touch. (You could even code a word by taste or smell, in theory.) As long as you can put something in two different states, you can use it to code with.

So, Phase One, you just do for real.

With Phase Two, you’re going to actually use Morse Code as a method where you pretend to use Morse Code. As you shuffle the deck you tap the word on your partners foot with your foot.

Phase Three is just any Triumph handling you want that comes close to mimicking what you did in Phase Two.


Alternate ending: If you want you could have your wingman successfully receive the word in the third phase. Then you could say something like, “This was a method prisoners of war used to send messages to other prisoners during World War II. Passing a note to another prisoner could get you in trouble, but passing them a deck of cards was perfectly innocent. Unless a guard was to grab it and spread through it and notice the arrangement of the cards. Then you’d have to come up with a way to ‘erase’ the message.” At that point you could focus on the just-mixed deck and do some magical action that apparently resets the deck to normal.


Okay, you don’t want to learn Morse Code. You could use something like the Thought Transmitter Pro or another type of peek device. Your spectator writes the word down (while you watch—you’re supposed to know the word) and at some point you deliver the peek to your partner. Then all the Morse Code stuff is just completely fake instead of only partially fake.


Being able to tap out words in Morse code is a surprisingly powerful tool. And having someone (or being someone) who doesn’t always need to take credit for the trick, is also very powerful. And combining those two tools is particularly satisfying. There’s a little bit of a dance to the methodology that feels extra good to pull off.

For example, picture this… There is an envelope on the table. A spectator secretly writes down any word. You open up the envelope and dump out a folded piece of paper and it has the word they wrote down.

The method? You peek the word. You tap it to your accomplice across the table. They write the word down on a card in their lap as all attention is on you and the spectator. They fold the card and toss it under the table into your lap. As you reach for the envelope with one hand, the other snags the card from your lap. You then apparently dump the card from the envelope, either by pulling it out from behind it or in a shuttle pass type of dump.

You can also tap the letters with your index and middle finger on the table top (index for dot, middle for dash). It will look like you’re just randomly drumming your fingers if anyone notices it all but. But now you can signal words to someone a few seats away at the bar. Someone who your spectator might not even realize is someone you know. So they think they’ve written down a word in secret, but in actuality you do know the word as does a third party they don’t know about. And your friend can be writing it on the bathroom wall or out in front of the bar in sidewalk chalk, or keying it into your car door or whatever.


This effect grew out of a much more difficult effect that fooled people intensely but didn’t have the other elements I look for in a trick.

A spectator freely shuffles a deck of cards. You spread the cards in front of them and ask them to look at the cards as they go by and to allow a one syllable word to come to their mind while they look at cards. They either say the word out loud or write it down and you peek it.

You deal the cards onto the table and ask them to stop you whenever they want.

You spread those dealt cards face up. Your friend comes in. He doesn’t need to get close to you or look at you. You could even leave the room before he returns. He looks at the spread of cards (from the deck the spectator freely shuffled and the number of cards they freely stopped at (no timing force)) and he can immediately name the word the spectator thought of.

Method

  1. The spectator shuffles the deck.

  2. As you spread the cards for them, you cull out the red cards during the first half of the spread. You don’t need to do it through the whole spread. When you’re done and you push the cards together and turn the deck over, you’ll have a bunch of red cards on top, a bunch of mixed cards, and a bunch of black cards on the bottom.

  3. They name the word they’re thinking of (or you peek it).

  4. Here’s where it gets difficult, but doable. The spectator is thinking of a one syllable word. Most of those are going to be 5 letters or less. You are going to deal the cards onto the table by dealing from the top and bottom of the deck and you are going to stack them in red/black Morse Code as you do. Here is my best tip to make this doable: Don’t think of “dot/dash” and don’t think of “red/black.” Think of “up/down.” Up = short/red/normal deal. Down = long/black/bottom deal

  5. Break up the dealing of the letters with some talking. Deal one or two letters at a time. So if they say the word FLAT. You would deal out an F (Up, Up, Down, Up)

    “I’m going to deal through deck in a pile.”

    Deal an L (Up, Down, Up, Up)

    “Just one at a time like this.”

    Knowing A and T are short (the most used letters in Morse Code are the easiest to signal). I would deal them together.

    Deal an A and a T (Up, Down, Down)

    “And you stop me at any point.” Or you can give the deck to them and have them continue dealing.

  6. When they’re done, you take the pile and flip it over and spread it. You want to have a fairly even spread initially. But then, in the process of making sure all the cards are showing, you’re going to put a little extra gap between the cards that represent the start of one letter and the beginning of another.

  7. When your friend comes in, he just ignores any cards after the last letter.

This fooled people badly, but I couldn’t come up with a really great presentation for it. What I tried going with was the idea that a shuffled deck is like tossed tea leaves and that the way the cards are distributed can tell us things. The idea being that the spectator was somehow able to intuit this word that was baked into this particular order in which they shuffled the deck and that my friend could then look at the spread and recognize the word as well.

It was okay, but not worth it for the effort required and the need of someone else to be involved.


So then I started doing a solo version. They think of a word and again, they name it out loud or write it down and I peek it. They shuffle the deck. I spread the cards and ask them if they see a pattern. They say “No.” I deal some cards into a pile on the table. “I think I may have seen a pattern.” Pause. Deal a few more cards. “I’m not 100% sure.” Deal a few more. “That should probably be enough.”

I spread the cards face up and then tell them about Morse Code and I bring up a translation page on my computer or phone.

“Here we have a red card, a black card, another red and a black. If red is short and black is long we have short-long-short-long. That would be a P in Morse Code. See? Did your word start with a P?”

I then go on to show them that the rest of their word is spelled out in the cards. So here the trick is they thought of a word, shuffled a deck of cards, and somehow managed to shuffle the cards into a Morse Code representation of the word they were thinking of. And they don’t even know Morse Code.

This too felt impossible to people, but didn’t really connect as I would want it to. I think it’s a little too dense as a subject matter for a trick.

But you may find a way to streamline it, or find the right audience for it.

Presentation vs Context: Clarification

A few people asked for clarification on the distinction between Presentation and Context. Part of the confusion might be baked into my terminology. The problem is I'm using those words to mean specific things, but they are also words that I have to use in a more general sense in my writing as well. Perhaps it's just a matter of capitalizing them when I'm talking about them in the specific sense that I'm using and not capitalizing them when I'm using them in the general sense of the word. I’ll give that a shot.

The concept I'm trying to capture is these three ways of presenting a trick.

1. You can do a trick with no story element at all. It's just a description of what they're seeing happen. "The card goes in the middle of the deck and now it's on top.”

Or

2. You can dress up the trick a little with a story element that is put on top of the trick. Remember when you used to be able to buy "skins" for your iPod? That's kind-of how I think of Presentation. Ideally it adds something to trick, but it’s inessential.

classic-main.jpg

Or

3. You can place a trick in a different Context that is something other than a straight "magic performance." It's a story that's that's taking place here and now.


Here's an example of each with the same trick.

1. Unadorned effect: You place four jacks in four different parts of the deck, then deal them all off the top of the deck.

2. Same effect with a Presentation: This is one of the first tricks that ever blew my mind as a little kid. A friend of the family performed it for me. It's a classic. The four jacks are "bank robbers." The deck is the "bank." One thief goes in the back door, another the door on the left side, another the door on the right side, and the last goes in the front door. The cops show up and all the thieves run out the front door (top of the deck).

3. Same effect with a Context: You talk about some gambling techniques you've been working on and ask for their help to see if you're "flashing" at all. You take the four jacks and put one on the bottom, one 2/3rds of the way down, one 1/3rd of the way down, and one second from the top (in actuality, all jacks are now on top). You square the deck and talk a little about second dealing and bottom dealing and center dealing. "They're all really hard, but with practice you can learn any one of them. It’s all about finding the rhythm. The really hard thing is to do those sorts of false deals in succession—one after the other. Usually they require different grips. But that's what I've been practicing. It's hell on your wrist." You pick up the deck, breathe deep, and quickly deal off four cards. "Ah, shiiiiitttttttt!" you say, as you bend your wrist back and forth and clench and unclench your fingers. "I need to work on the hand strength. But did it look like they were coming off the top?" you ask as you flip over the jacks.


One way to identify Presentation vs. Context is that Presentations often are symbolic stories. "The jacks are bank robbers. The deck is a bank." Things are representing other things.

In a Context, things are what they are (for the most part).

In general, I prefer Context over Presentation. And that's because I find it easier to make a context somewhat engrossing. But this isn't intended to be a value judgment. My point in this series of posts is to identify the characteristics of Context vs. Presentation so you can manipulate them depending on what experience you're attempting to deliver.

(Personally, for the four jack trick, I'd be more likely to use the classic Presentation mentioned above than the Context I gave, because I don't generally use Contexts that are focused on my "incredible skill" (unless it's clearly ridiculous). So if I were to do this trick it would be with the bank robber presentation. But not for adults. It’s a trick I’d save for kids. I have better stuff for adults.)


So, going back to where I started this post, to help clarify this concept, this is really just an extension of something I’ve been discussing since the beginning of this site: the difference between the amateur style and the professional style.

If you want it to feel like a “performance,” then you will focus on Presentation and presentational elements: patter, scripted jokes, wardrobe, routining, etc. This is what a professional—or someone performing in a professional style—will do. If you’re putting on a performance you don’t need to worry about Context because you are already doing the trick in the context of a performance.

If you want it to feel like a social interaction, then you will focus on Context. Context is heavily affected by your relationship to the spectator(s) and where you are performing the trick. But ultimately Context is defined by Why you say you’re showing them the trick. A context is just a reason to show people a trick other than, “I’m trying to entertain you.” The context does not need to be believed or believable. You offering them an immersive fiction, not trying to play a practical joke on them.


I will put Presentation vs. Context in an analogy you will all understand: hiring a prostitute.

If you pay a meth-head $5 for a blowjob, that’s like a trick without presentation or context. It’s just the unadorned effect. You’re just trying to drain your nuts.

If you hire a $200 hooker off Craigslist and she shows up in a sexy outfit and teases you with a lap-dance first, then that’s like a trick with some presentation. Sure, the point is still to blow your load, but here she’s added some presentational/performance elements to it.

If you pay a woman $800 to act like your girlfriend for the evening, she may show up in her pajama bottoms and a hoodie and you may watch The Great British Bake Off for 2 hours. And then she may give you effectively the same BJ as you got for $5 from the meth-head, but here it’s in a girlfriend Context. In your head you know this isn’t “real,” but that doesn’t prevent it from potentially being a much more affecting experience due to the Context.


Finally, here are some of the other terms I considered using before settling on Presentation vs Context, which may give further insight in regards to how I’m using the those terms.

Trick-Focused Presentations vs Story-Focused Presentations

Too wordy.

Superficial Presentations vs Immersive Presentations

I didn't like what could be seen as an implied judgment in the word "superficial,” even though that’s not how I’d be using the word. I didn’t want to have to explain that each time.

Third-Person Presentations vs First-Person Presentations

I think this one has value as it focuses on the audience's role. Are they watching a story (Presentation/Performance), or are they part of the story (Context/Interaction).

Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Presentations

This was probably me trying to be too clever—playing off the concept of diegetic and non-diegetic sound in movies. Is the presentation part of the fictional world you're creating, or is it something added on top to emphasize certain elements of the trick?

I think most of you are probably pretty clear on the subject. If you’re not, you will be after I finish up this series.

Dustings of Woofle #15

This was making the rounds on twitter and in my email box last week.

I have a hard time believing it's legitimate because it's so fucking stupid. I hope it's real though.

Jacob S.W. wrote me with a great idea:

Actually starting this restaurant in real life would be insane, but pretending that somebody else has started it could be fun. That is, I tell my kids about a bizarre new restaurant, which has secretly been set up to make it easy for people to do magic tricks. Then I take them to some ordinary, non-magic restaurant, and I've got a built-in imp for everything. “The forks here are charged with negative ions. You know that mint they gave me when we came in? Positively charged. Now every time I move a body part near a fork, it moves. Don’t tell the waiter I told you how it works!” Etc.

I think that's a great context to show some tricks, especially if someone in your life saw that tweet and sent it to you.

"Oh, those restaurants already exist. I mean, not exactly like that. I don't think you would open up a restaurant for the sole purpose of catering to magicians who wanted to perform there. But there is a secret network of about 150 or so restaurants across the country that do offer the service. There's one...gee... about 45 minutes from here. Do you want to go sometime? You just can't tell anyone that I told you this."

You can then go and claim there is special cutlery [spoon bending] and that the waiters will always name a specific card so you can have that card reversed in the deck in order to impress people. [Invisible deck] "Go ahead, point to any waiter and I'll wave them over to name a card. It will be funny. They’ll act totally confused by it. They’re good actors here.”

The concept is almost believable. When something like this is "almost believable," I like to push it about 20% further into unbelievability.

"Okay, here’s something I didn’t tell you before you started eating your eggplant parmesan because I didn’t want you to freak out about it. One thing you can do here is call ahead and ask them to mix something—and let me be clear here, it’s not LSD, okay?—you can ask them to mix a non-toxic, LSD-adjacent, chemical in the food of the person you’re dining with…. Calm down! It’s not a big deal. It’s such a low dose that it’s practically nothing. But it can cause suggestibility and hallucinatory behavior in people.” Follow that with any sort of visual magic trick.


Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 3.29.34 PM.jpg

“And I do bill to lemon!”

Thanks to Lee W. for sending this along to me from the reviews for Haunted at Penguin. I don't know why I find this so funny. I guess just the manner of throwing it out there with no context like bill to lemon is just obviously the standard against which everything should be judged.

If you want to delight me, please use that phrase often in the future, when writing on the Cafe, in your Yelp reviews, or when arguing with the wife.

I'm not a fan of Bill to Lemon, because it's kind of the epitome of meaningless impossibility. I know it gets a fine reaction but there's not much there to really capture someone's imagination. No one walks out thinking, "Man... I wish I could make my money go into a lemon! Is it possible? Or will it forever be just a beautiful dream?"


If you know Ken Weber please tell him I said “thank you" for his kind email and “no, I don't think we've ever met.”

(I know this is a wildly inefficient way to communicate with someone. I tried to reply to his email but it just bounced back to me. His email address came through as a weird string of numbers and letters @outlook.com. I can't imagine that was his normal email address. Maybe he used some kind of anti-spam one-time email address because he thought I was going to sign him up on my mailing list. I don’t have a mailing list, so that’s not a concern.)


Here's a perfect looking Yento box from friend-of-the-site, George K.

IMG_3876.jpg

He writes:

I did the Yento presentation for my 11-year-old niece for her birthday. (I used the Crystal Cleaver.) She was super into it. Such a fun and great idea for presenting magic. I'm pretty sure I'll be doing this every year with her from here on out.

This is one of my favorite presentational conceits as well. Not only because spectators seem to dig it, but also because iit gave me an excuse to go back and re-examine the Tenyo catalog for effects that I could work into the framework. (And buy a bunch of Tenyo junk in the process.)


I don’t share too many personal details on this site, but I just have to tell someone about this date I had last night.

I went with this woman to a new tapas restaurant about 15 minutes from my place. The sexual tension was palpable. Not long after we sat down, she shifted around the seat of the curved booth so she was right next to me, her hand on my thigh and gradually inching upwards as we talked.

When it was time to leave, we couldn’t pay the check fast enough.

At every stoplight on the way back to my place our hands and mouths were all over each other.

And when we finally got inside, our clothes started coming off before the door was even closed.

We kissed and undressed and stumbled our way to the bed where we made love for hours, climaxing together on multiple occasions as we gazed into each other’s eyes and each other’s souls. She told me it was the most amazing thing she’s ever experienced. And I do bill to lemon.